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Baltimore Sues 26 Fossil Fuel Companies Over Climate Change

Updated: Sep 4, 2018

Baltimore has put billions of dollars into coastal development and has become an example for urban revitalization. But the rising seas are now putting all that at risk. The Maryland city wants to hold the fossil fuel industry responsible.

Baltimore waterfront

Suing Fossil Fuels

On Friday, June 20, Baltimore announced a lawsuit that sued 26 fossil fuel companies over the threats posed by climate change. Baltimore spokesperson Andre M. Davis says that "Baltimore's residents, workers and businesses shouldn't have to pay for the damage knowingly caused by these companies." 

New York, Oakland, and San Francisco all had similar lawsuits against the fossil fuel industry. However, these were in federal courts, and were thrown out because federal judges agreed with the fossil fuel industry's argument that federal laws, primarily the Clean Air Act, take precedence over state laws, and that Congress and the president are responsible for taking action on climate change, rather than the courts. This means that they will always throw out cities suing fossil fuel companies.

The Baltimore lawsuit is through Maryland state courts, so they can use state laws instead of having the twisted logic of the federal judges. "Despite the federal court's unfounded fear that legal solutions will prevent political ones, the justice system is not powerless to give relief to local communities that are harmed by global warming and rising sea levels," Davis said. He noted that in the 1950s, a state judge in Delaware ruled against discrimination in a school despite federal laws. The same can be done for climate change.

Fossil Fuels Companies Knew of the Risk

The city of Baltimore states in their lawsuit that fossil fuel companies knew about the effects of fossil fuels on the climate for more than 50 years. Yet, at the same time, the lawsuit says that they fossil fuel companies engaged in a coordinated effort to discredit the climate science and cover up their knowledge. 

"As a direct and proximate consequence of defendants' wrongful conduct ... flooding and storms will become more frequent and more severe, and average sea level will rise substantially along Maryland's coast, including in Baltimore," says the 130 page lawsuit.

The city cites a 2014 Climate Central study that projected that within 80 years, Baltimore could see annual flooding that would break today's records. The same study found that sea level rise driven by climate change has already increased the likelihood of extreme floods in and around Baltimore by at least 20 percent.

The lawsuit also states that Baltimore is having trouble dealing with climate change-related health issues and hotter/drier summers. 

Infrastructure and Inner Harbor Risks

The lawsuit states that Baltimore's waterfront is extremely vulnerable to sea level rise due to the fact of dense development and low-lying areas. 

The Baltimore port and waterfront provide jobs and a strong property tax vital for the city government. The revitalized Inner Harbor attracts more than 20 million tourists each year to the many attractions.

Beyond the waterfront, the lawsuit states that the electricity grid/power plants, city roads, rail lines, emergency response facilities, and waste treatment plants are all at risk from climate change.

Not unlike other cities, Baltimore states that that it cannot afford the cost of stopping the impacts of climate change on their city.


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